Friday, March 30, 2007

Answering the question which Answer service is best?

I had a couple issues come up in the last few days that I wanted guidance. So I decided to try LinkedIn’s new (launched January 2007) Answers service. I also posed a similar question to Yahoo Answers (launched Dec. 2005).

These Answer services aren't much different than a standard web forum, but the presentation is definitely better and there is a focus on answering a specific question rather than having threaded discussions. (Google also had an answer service staffed by experts charging for answers, but this was shut down last December.)

LinkedIn and Yahoo Answers are fairly similar. You need an account with Yahoo or LinkedIn (if you’re not familiar with the many benefits of joining LinkedIn see my post HyperLinkedIn).

Once you are member, you can pose a finite number of questions. LinkedIn limits you to five a month and Yahoo has a point system that limits how many questions you can pose (basically you have to answer others’ questions to get points to be able to pose your questions – but Yahoo starts you off with a bunch, so you can easily test it out). Both will email you when you get a response (which typically happens in the first couple days and then that's it) and both seem to offer RSS subscription to the topics and questions. Both also allow you to vote on the best answer.

Which one is better?
Both are quite useful and were a big help. Both also have problems that are based more on human nature than any technical glitch. In Yahoo’s case, I found people were posting stupid responses just to get points, and in LinkedIn’s case some were posting inappropriate responses for self-promotion. Wikipedia offers a good look at other criticism of Yahoo Answers.

Overall, I slightly prefer LinkedIn as it gives the opportunity to pose questions only to your network and I think that in helps build community that may lead to new contacts.

As per my previous post, I was thinking wouldn’t it be great if Shakira was on LinkedIn? The questions I have for her.

Shakira on MySpace and I asked her if she’ll be my friend. I had to ask the PussyCat Dolls three times to be my friend before they’d finally have me. Sucks to be turned down by former burlesque dancers, even if they are all gorgeous and can actually sing (seriously, I have their album and it's good!)

Shakira, if you’re listening please join LinkedIn!

Twitter bashing

Twitter is generating a lot of hype lately while also earning a lot of scorn. I updated my previous Twitter item to capture some of the criticism. But today, I saw the funniest comic that says it all.

It's from PC Weenies by Krishna M. Sadasivam.

The PC Weenies archives are hilarious too, check it out. (Used with permission.)

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Naming dropping online works

I was doing a vanity google today, as I am wont to do. Not much new on the Glen Farrelly front. There is that other Glen Farrelly (well, there are several) that is doing a charity trek soon for testicular cancer called "Say Balls to Cancer".

Not seeing much action with any of my entries coming up in normal search or Technorati and no one is linking to me (I'd have to have someone reading this first, eh).

I did learn that I don't need to embed the special Technorati tags for them to work in Technorati's tag search. Technorati can now read Blogger's "Labels". This has the added benefit of having a search and archive method available on the right-hand side here.

So back to the my online presence or lack thereof - that is until my post two days ago. The post about the search queries of Americans vs. Canadians.

Even though I was reprinting Yahoo's results all the name dropping worked!

Just the mention of Beyonce got me posted on an all Beyonce news site. Jessica Simpson did likewise. But it was my beloved Shakira that really got results. There was serious pick-up of my blog entry from various Shakira sites.

So thank you Shakira, wherever, whenever you may be.

All my months of diligently and, if I do say so myself, insightful blogging have not paid off. But one entry mentioning hot celebs and Bob's my uncle or rather Paris Hilton's my aunt.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

How do Canadians & Americans differ? NHL vs. Britney

I just got the latest issue of Backbone Magazine, a Canadian tech and business magazine. I should be reading the cover story on the top 300 Canadian tech companies, but what struck me is an item they had on Canadians vs. Americans top search queries on Yahoo last year.

Yahoo compiled the top searches for 2006 and the results reveal a lot about each country's national character. Neither country comes off looking particularly erudite, we just exchange one shameless pop-culture obsession for another.

Top 10 Canadian searches
1. NHL
2. FIFA World Cup
3. American Idol
4. Rock Star Supernova
5. WWE
6. Neopets
7. Revenue Canada
8. Days of Our Lives
9. Environment Canada
10. Jessica Simpson

Top 10 U.S. searches
1. Britney Spears
2. WWE
3. Shakira
4. Jessica Simpson
5. Paris Hilton
6. American Idol
7. Beyonce Knowles
8. Chris Brown
9. Pamela Anderson
10. Lindsay Lohan

NHL vs. Britney - that really sums up the difference between Canada and the U.S.

Despite our differences though, we both share a great love and obsession with Jessica Simpson, wrestling (WWE) and American Idol.

At least, Canada has some items on our top ten that aren't embarrassing - though it is embarrassing that Shakira didn't show up. I'm sure I searched for her enough times to get her on the list. But then I guess search logs, like hips, don't lie!

Another interesting point, the American show Rock Star Supernova appears on Canada's list (as Canadians won both seasons) and Canadian superstar Pamela Anderson doesn't appear on our list. Guess we're all residents of a dorky global village now.

While Revenue Canada is on the top ten for Canada, I can't imagine the IRS appearing too highly in American queries. But then as the saying goes "Canada is the only country where an accountant is a national hero".

Biggest surprise: Days of Our Lives. I had no idea that show was so popular with my countrymen. I can' t believe it beat the great totality of my searches for Shakira????

Monday, March 26, 2007

Site index - to do or not to do?

I prepared a site index for my website. A site index is like a book index; an alphabetically listing of the topics contained in the website, in the users words. Site indices don’t try to contain every link but point to the content that is best suited for that term.

At this point, it is a given that all websites should have search engine functionality and a site map (a hierarchal map of the pages in a website).

But someone commented that our site doesn’t need a site index. With most websites above-the-fold real estate is at a premium and thus my site index will probably be relegated from the very-useful utility bar to the purgatory of the site footer.

Today, I read this article in Boxes & Arrows called “Improving Usability with a Website Index” by Fred Leise. Leise describes the advantages of site index as:
They offer easy scanning for finding known items, they provide entry points to content using the users’ own vocabulary and they provide access to concepts discussed, but not named, in the text.

A good search engine (and frankly many sites have crappy ones) can go a long way, but they often pull up too much information and are confined by the ability of the user to articulate – and using the correct terminology – what information they are looking for. A site map can help for browsing, but can also be overwhelming, and unless the webpage titles are very indicative and definitive they may not capture what the user is looking for.

To help with some of these problems, I compiled a thesaurus of both official and user terminology, that is built into the search engine. This helps a lot, but still requires users to be able to articulate their query and may actually increase the already too-plentiful results.

Who better than a human very familiar with a website’s content and the site’s users and their vocabulary to devise a search aid?

According to Leise they aid website usability:
Indexes, as flat lists of terms, are easily scannable. Users need only use their browser’s scroll bar to navigate through the entire index. (Large indexes often provide alphabetical anchor links at the top of the index, which take users quickly to the portion of the index they need to use.) There are no multiple levels to navigate, nor must users decide which branch of a hierarchy to click on, which often results in their missing information, they are looking for or taking longer to find it. In fact, the easy scannability of the index on a single page is an important argument against having separate pages for letter of the alphabet, whenever possible.

Okay, I’m sold on the site index, but I’d love to hear anyone else’s opinion or experience using them or developing them for their site.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Gone in a Flash

The problems I described with Flash in my last post were partially sorted out.

However, my confidence in Flash (which had taken years to warm up to) is completely gone.

I saw on Adobe's site that according to various studies, roughly 90-95% of the population had at least Version 8 of the free Flash player.

First of all, I find these figure a bit dubiously high. The other problem is for those users that choose to not upgrade. And there are some users that don't upgrade due to download restrictions at work, personal paranoia about downloading anything from the Net, or just too busy to do it even though it only takes a moment.

For those that don't upgrade, they can either get a broken site or you can set up a sniffer to send them to a static page version, but then the user isn't getting a top experience and two versions of the material in different formats now have to be maintained. Or you can send them to a page asking them either to upgrade Flash or go to a static page version. This last option seems the best, but then you still have all the problems of the second option, and the user's first impression is diminished - they may even click away.

Judging from my recent problems with Flash, I suspect there may be more problems than is commonly acknowledged.

So here is my request of you, gentle reader, please let me know what you think of Flash? Is it safe enough to use on a homepage?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Incompatible back and forth, and certainly not stable

If I was ever tempted to think that the World Wide Web was a stable medium, my experiences today convinced me otherwise.

There are still many technical problems (not to mention usability issues) and users are often left struggling in the dark wondering why things don't work as expected or even not at all.

We launched a major online initiative today and had both backward and forward compatibility errors. Before I could be tempted to think the project was jinxed, my other online experiences continued to be plagued.

Problem #1
There were backward compatibility issues with a Flash intro that didn't work in version 7 of the player. It didn't give an error message or instruct the user to upgrade. Just didn't work.

Problem #2
The PDFs for the site didn't work in Adobe Reader 8 as it appears they were created in Acrobat 7 and didn't have full forward compatibility.

Problem #3
My feeds to syndicate my news and cool sites decided not to work, see vacant space on the left. Strangely, they work fine on MyYahoo, but not on my Google Reader or this Blogger blog ( is owned by Yahoo and perhaps they cut off their main competitor Google and Blogger, which is owned by Google?)

Problem #4
I tried to invite a contact to join my LinkedIn three times. I would log in, prepare the invite, hit send, it would then lose my message and instruct me to log in again - repeat ad nauseum. Hope the person doesn't end up getting it three times by some fluke. (Three invites all slightly different, they'd think I want them as a contact just TOO much!)

Problem #5
I assumed that when the problem was solved for problem #1 I could send the fixed file live remotely from home. Nope, my VPN connection won't work. Nothing different since the last time I used it, and, naturally, the error message is cryptically useless.

Problem #6
Okay, this one is old, but it was so horrorific that I am bringing it up as a therapeutic purging. Last year, we launched another big online project and on the day we were committed to go live - an Internet backbone went down. The Net was down for the whole region, but we had to go live that day.

It's tempting to be lured into thinking that the various Internet media are stable as often things work quite well. It's thus easy to forget that there are still a lot of problems to overcome. Problems like users having too old (or in Adobe Reader's case, too new) set-ups, or weird crankiness in a network or server that a layperson would never be able to figure out, or interfaces that just aren't intuitive either through bad design or the lack of fully-established conventions, or sloppy code, or who knows what other mysteries lurk in cyberspace.

So many variables it makes problem solving such true misery, particularly when you can't replicate the problem and all you have to go on is the description of an inarticulate user.

Perhaps as I get older, even more cantankerous, and even less tolerant of these oh-so-many problems the Internet will be stable. But by then I certainly won't be.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Blogging for dollars

Yesterday, while pining over the Mesh web conference line-up (that I won't be able to go to, sigh), I came across B5Media, a Toronto-based company that pays people to blog on their network. They also had a link on the site to job postings for bloggers at ProBlogger.

I had considered the idea a few weeks ago, when I received a print copy of Digital Journal, that mentioned they also pay people to blog. Digital Journal is also a Toronto company.

I don't think I want to do make Webslinger into a professional blog though.

Yes, I like money (but not in that Midas way).

But if Webslinger was professional, I wouldn't have the same freedom to publish more personal items that are a record I want to keep of my online life (see yesterday's posting). Also, I'd have to commit to regular updates and a more clear focus.

Basically, it would just take all the fun out of blogging.

It would be nice to get more exposure to my blog and, again, I like money, but if the fun is gone and the personal relevance too, then I don't see the point.

Today, I did see another way to make money online...

Globe&Mail currently has a contest to win $10,000 by adding your comments to their blogs and articles.

Webslinger doesn't offer a cent for your comments, but they are greatly appreciated.

Friday, March 16, 2007

1.2 readers for every blog

Last week, I read in an article, Web 2.0 - Using Blogs by Brad Einarsen that every North American blog has an average of 1.2 readers (based on study by Forrester). I’m hoping that figure does not include the blog author!
Thanks to my wife and Eden, my loyal blog readers, my blog is at least ahead of the pack.
The research shows that most blog readers are also people that write blogs. Blogs don’t get a lot of reach beyond this group.
Plus the number of blogs out there is overwhelming and disheartening. I keep finding at least one or two a day – many of which are definitely worth reading regularly and some are good, but considering my information overload, I don’t have time for.
This all lead me to feel quite discouraged about blogging, but then a faithful Webslinger reader, my wife, mentioned that there is a lot of value in blogging just to keep a record of what I’m doing and learning online. Isn’t this how blogs started – as a web diary, a.k.a web log? I think I will keep blogging as it is a useful record of my online experience and findings and if anything else comes of it (including a reader or two – or rather .2) then all the better.
However, I don’t plan to blog as frequently. Some blog entries are really just drawing attention to useful articles I read. And there isn’t a lot of value in just posting an intro to these without offering my take on it or some sort of context or analysis.
I read a lot of articles about the Internet every day and have been faithfully bookmarking ones with lasting value to my I was thinking it would be great if I could share my picks and upon looking into it I found that makes syndicating and sharing bookmarks and tags really easy.
As such I have launched my breaking news feature, which you’ll see on the right.
Web news - picks by Glen
There are a lot of articles published about the Internet, many of which are nothing more than screen-filler. I collect the articles that discuss best-practices, trends, latest research, the evolving role of the Internet within our society and culture and of course cool and shiny new developments.
You can view the web news here or subscribe to the feed yourself.
So Webslinger may be evolving despite the discouraging statistics. And if you are a loyal reader (I can hear crickets chirping) let me know...

Online travels

Now that I have a two-year-old, my real-world travels have been rather limited. Can't see as much of the world as we once did, but thanks to the Internet my online travels aren't limited.

That was a fancy intro just to show off another vanity Internet time-waster - World 66 personalized, dynamic maps of the countries one has been to.

While having no benefit I can determine, I like many others, love these kind of things!

You too can
create your own visited country map

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Twitters of nervous laughter

A couple days ago a colleague introduced me to Twitter.

While I have not signed up, I feel I can nonetheless claim that it is pretty much completely useless.

Twitter is similar to Instant Messaging functionality, except public. You can post quick notes about what you are doing and where you are at this exact moment.

The world is dying to know these micro-details of your life after all!

In reality, I don't think even your friends want to know. Even I don't care about such mundane details of my own life!

Steve Bryant in his Today in Stupid blog sums up Twitter's inanity and annoyance "Of all the masturbatory ego-fluffers on the Web, nothing chafes me worse than Twitter".

I have seen one good use of it though. The colleague who introduced me to Twitter has a blog, Bargainista, devoted to Toronto shopping. Twitter has a widget that she has posted on her blog that allows her to post her up-to-the minute specials, sales and shopping discoveries. It does facilitate quick and easy micropublishing that works for this subject.

But upon looking at overall Twitter community's postings, I see: "refgrunt: can i borrow your cordless phone?", "tina is ready for the weekend", and "Eatin some rice cakes bigger than my freakin head".

Twitters of contemptuous laughter...

Addendum (posted March 29)
Another person shares my annoyance at Twitter. David Ewalt writes in Digital Download
A Note To All Twitter Users:

I'm not interested in what you had for breakfast. I don't need to know when you leave for work. Got stuck in bad traffic? Keep it to yourself.

Your work habits aren't even important to your coworkers. Your lunch choices matter to no one. Now you're reading your favorite blogs? Color me uninterested.

When you leave work, I don't want to hear it. If you go out for drinks, keep it between you and the bartender. And when you get home, don't share your TV viewing habits. They're about as interesting as watching paint dry.
Let's hope Twitter is one of those embarrassing web fads that quickly dies, like Schnappi Das Kleine Krokodil (okay that had way more lasting power and interest than Twitter does)

World's riskiest domains

Diminutive island-state Tokelau has the highest concentration of risky websites (spam harvesters, virus infectors, etc.) of all domains in the world.

A study by McAfee and discussed in article Surf at Your Own Risk identifies the world's riskiest domains.
World's Riskiest Web Domains:
  1. Tokelau (.tk)
  2. Information (.info)
  3. Samoa (.ws)
  4. Romania (.ro)
  5. Commercial (.com)
  6. Business (.biz)
  7. Russia (.ru)
  8. Network (.net)
  9. Families and Individuals (.name)
  10. Slovakia (.sk)
XXX does not mark the spotI was surprised that the .xxx domain wasn't on the list (.xxx is for use by adult entertainment companies). But looking into it, I noticed ICANN still had not approved it yet.

The Toronto-based company International Foundation for Online Responsibility is leading the charge for this new top-level domain. (Toronto as adult industry centre? Well LavaLife and Ashley Madison did start here.)

I noticed there is a lot of controversy surrounding .xxx. It seems like a great idea to me. I think all pornographers should be forced to use it. This would make me happy as a parent (as filters could easily block all sites with that domain) but also as a hapless employee who has accidentally opened "inappropriate" websites at work (seriously, by accident! - including an unfortunate search for info on Margaret Trudeau that turned up something, or rather someone, else!).

What's the problem with .info?
I was surprised that .info is so dubious. I've been trying to get our site to use that domain in addition to .com and .ca for a couple years. Guess there's no hurry...

Friday, March 09, 2007

Great tools, stupid humans

Humanity can create great tools that could accomplish great things, but what do humans do with these tools? Hit each other over the head with them.

Globe and Mail has reported a recent online clash between Turks and Greeks in Centuries-old rivalry plays out on YouTube.

Apparently, Greeks and Turks have been taking turns posting racist videos on YouTube. It would be moronically funny, if it wasn't so pathetic. (Turkey banned YouTube in response, but has subsequently lifted the ban.)

There may be some hope for humanity using these tools more positively. Toronto police have recently posted to YouTube a crime-scene reenactment to help solve a violent crime and warn others about the attacker. (It happened where I used to live near York University - when will they make that area safe for students?). Full article.

Hamilton, Ontario police are believed to be the first police force to use YouTube for a criminal investigation. The Toronto Star has a good backgrounder on how and why police are turning to YouTube for help, Police court teen tips on YouTube.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Will New Fees Kill the Internet Radio Star?

A article yesterday, Will Web Radio Get Turned Off by Louis Hau, outlines new fees to be imposed by U.S. Copyright Royalty Board.

Internet radio stations will have their rates more than doubled for each song they play (from 8 to 19 cents). While some of the stations are now profitable, few can afford this level of increase.

Another fee that could be the death of some Internet radio sites, is that there will be a new fee of $500 per year per station a company runs. For sites like Pandora, who allow users to create their own individual, customized stations, this is disastrous.

While ad revenues have been growing steadily in this sector, there is still a lot of development going on. It does seem like these rates could cripple development, prevent new entrants, and/or put some out of business.

This topic has been near and dear to me lately, as I recently discovered a couple music sites that are now favourites.


Pandora is a free music website that allows users to enter an artist or song that they like and Pandora plays songs similar to that style. The matching is based on the classification by a team of music experts, as part of the Music Genome Project, that have profiled ten thousand artists based on “melody, harmony, instrumentation, rhythm, vocals, lyrics ... and more - close to 400 attributes”.

Independent and new artists are given the same weight as the stars. The result is that you get to hear some new artists and new songs. I’ve already discovered a few new artists that I now love and learned that Queen Latifah can sing.

Listeners can rate songs giving them a thumbs up, which then helps guide your future offerings, or a thumbs down, which not only stops the song, but bars it from playing again on that station.

The downside of Pandora is that you don’t get to hear much of a mix, and after awhile it can be monotonous. But you can add songs and artists to the stations to spice them up and eventually end up with a fully personalized and eclectic station.

My favourite stations I created are:

Yahoo Music Videos

A couple weeks ago I was trying to hear that insipidly catchy “Grace Kelly” song and stumbled upon Yahoo Music Videos. It has a lot of videos, mostly popular music, that you can watch on demand.

Now that MTV & MuchMusic don’t actually play many videos any more, this was a blast from the past for me. I felt like I was reliving my youth - rushing home from school to see the only video show available “Toronto Rocks” with John Majhor.

While it was fun to see videos by the likes of the Pussycat Dolls, getting to see Thriller, Hungry Like the Wolf or Girls Just Wanna Have Fun again (for their kitsch appeal only, seriously) would be a real treat!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

My nightmare, but someone else is living it

As a website manager my nightmare is that not only will online things not work but that they'll corrupt data, have to be taken offline, a big public fiasco results, media frenzy ensues, head roll!! The horror!

At least someone else is living my nightmare though...

The Canada Revenue Agency, with tax season in full swing, announced today that their online services, specifically Netfile, Efile and their personalized account interface ("My Account") all had to be taken offline, temporarily pending investigation into "infrastructure problems".

Read the press release on CRA's website.

I feel their pain... but hope they get it up in time for me to do my taxes.

I love Netfile; it's so quick and easy. I've been doing it for years. Last year, I lost our Netfile codes and had to print everything out and mail it in then wait ages for the refund - made me appreciate Netfile all the more.

Whomever is now killing themselves over this at CRA, my heart goes out to you!